Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Why do people get so angry?

You aren’t supposed to talk about religion or politics at the dinner table because it is bad for friendship and digestion. These are difficult subjects for many of us, and it is largely incomprehensible to me why people get so agitated. I can understand if someone calls your wife a slut, or says that Hitler was right to kill whomever, but many arguments are actually not of this elk. Yet my philosopher and Buddhist priest friends appear very angry when we discuss politics or economics. I’m totally bewildered why people respond in this way.

Take the subject of wages. We should all agree that if we increase wages to a certain point the business will have to go totally robotic or go out of business, and if we decrease wages we won’t be able to find workers. It is difficult to determine exactly where those price points are. What might work in the car wash industry might not work in the fast-food industry. People will get bent out of shape by what I just wrote. They will say that people can’t live on a meager sum. They will also say that some CEOs make obscene salaries and they should give their money away. All of this is probably true.

We could discuss what are the options for these problems. We generally agree that some people work at less than a “living wage.” We can try to persuade their boss to pay them more, we can force their boss to pay them more, we can supplement their income, or we can say, “tough luck.” I haven’t heard of other short term choices. Over the long term, it is possible to increase their productivity potential with more education so that their boss may be more willing to increase their salary. What I don’t understand, once again, is why someone should be angry in a discussion such as this. With each of the possible solutions, we need to look at the costs and benefits. Doing nothing and having people suffer might be something society doesn’t want to do. Doing something usually involves persuasion and/or government action. Again, there is no reason to be mean or angry here. We can work together to find the best solution.


I love the story of the Indian tribe that would have the elders gather around a table when the tribe had a problem to solve. They’d put a pumpkin in the middle of the table and the elders would pretend that the pumpkin represented the problem. They’d work together to understand the problem and find the right solution. I suspect the same would occur when a boat is on fire. The crew should work together to save the passengers below. There is no need or purpose for the crew to start fighting with each other. They need to use all their energies to find the best solutions.

Eckhart Tolle, in his book, The Egoic Mind, talks about how we identify with our beliefs. So when those beliefs are threatened, our very self is threatened. Because I’m threatened when you challenge my beliefs and you are threatened when your beliefs are threatened, we adopt the fight or flight mentality. Nothing is going to be solved with this strategy (or is it really an anti-strategy?)—preserving the hut (see yesterday’s post: Song of the Grass Roof Hermitage) we’ve built rather than finding the truth.

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